From the Boatshop
by Ron Magen

"What's in a SNAME?"

Being neither a boat designer nor a Nautical Engineer, I had decided to stay out of this particular, ‘pissing contest’. {I think of myself as more of a ‘plan modifier’}

However, between an international news story and a recent comment on the Bolger List I think it’s time for me to shoot from the lip.

I live in suburban Philadelphia. A little over a year ago there was a disaster when part of a local pier collapsed. A night club was situated on it and some people were killed. During the recent re-telling and up-dating of the story it was related that the city, the pier owners, the nightclub owner, and the THREE ENGINEERING firms who inspected and approved the pier were still pointing fingers of blame at each other.

This past week there has been a news story about the horrific collapse of a dance floor during a wedding party in Israel. Many people were hurt and killed. Before the rescue people were much beyond their initial efforts, the building owner, the contractor who built it, and the architect who designed it - 15 years ago - were ARRESTED!!

Several years ago I worked with a very good experienced engineer. In one of our lunch time conversations the subject of PE Licensing came up, I had thought of it as a sign of peer recognition; like an MD or PHD. After one’s name. He shook his head and said he would NEVER get one; "When something goes wrong and they look for someone to blame it on - YOU’RE IT !!" It seems like both the Captain of a ship, and my wife’s clinical research, the Doctor on the program {usually only from an administrative standpoint} or the person with the ‘ticket’ {Ship master or PE} is the one who is RESPONSIBLE. [ "I have a very responsible job around here; When anything goes wrong I’m responsible !" ]

Many of us have been to Mystic Seaport or a similar nautical venue. If you have taken a boat ride, even on a relatively small boat like the catboat ‘BRECK MARSHALL’ on the Mystic River, the employee who steers the boat holds a USCG ‘ticket’. Just like the captain of a 1,500 passenger cruise ship, HE is RESPONSIBLE for the vessel and it’s passengers.

When a very large sea-going vessel is designed and built it most likely by a corporate ‘team’ that integrates the hundreds of systems. Licensed engineers and inspectors are on site throughout the process.

When a smaller vessel is built it usually falls into the "Documented Vessel" category with it’s attendant certifications. If a vessel [even a relative small one like the sailing cruisers of the Maine coast} is used to " . . . carry passengers for hire . . .", the vessel and the captain MUST BE USCG inspected and certified.

Almost all of us have taken friends and/or family out in our boats; often very small boats and sometimes quite a bit ‘offshore’. Although I am a responsible and prudent sailor, and consider myself a ‘master’, I DO NOT consider myself a ‘Captain’ because I do not hold that USCG certification. I’m sure most of us don’t.

I’m fairly certain all of us have watched one or more of the ‘cop shows’ currently on television. We have all heard the term - "Chain of Evidence". An item from the crime scene is passed from individual to individual, always within sight and each step documented until it winds up in the court room. The basis being that the item in question is TRULY, 100%, what was at the crime scene.

When I would produce a quote to a customer’s specification I always included the phrase, ". . . based on responsible engineering practices". A simple statement that could be backed up by volumes of IEEE, NEMA, etc. standards. If the switchgear specification called for a 4000 amp load, I used 4000 amp Buss Duct. As a STANDARD the cell in which the gear resided included numerous safety interlocks and shutters to prevent access to the ‘hot’ buss. The maintenance people where the gear was installed were certified to work on the equipment and had regular safety seminars. During my orientation period we were given a series of lectures - one was by the corporate legal department. An incident was related where a plant maintenance technician defeated 5 safety interlocks, ignored numerous warnings, locked open the safety shutters, and went into a cell to clean with a METAL dust pan. He became a cinder and his widow won the lawsuit.

When a designer puts a plan together for sale or publication it typically has material & dimensional specifications, instructions, comments, notes, and written recommendations. On the plans for Bolger’s ‘BEE’ it clearly shows a "6 Hp" outboard and the comment on the ‘key sheet’ states " . . . no more than 8 horsepower or 60 pounds dry weight . . .". [A farsighted point as O/B’s and weight/Hp ratios change]. It also gives the OAL of 7ft 3in , yet the design first came to my attention in a ‘Messing About in Boats’ photo & note where a builder put a 9.9Hp Mercury O/B on his, then made another - stretched to 10ft and put a 20Hp Mercury on that one. I’m sure he consulted Phil before or after.

My wife has wanted a ‘Maine Lobster boat’ for some time. I wanted to surprise her with a ‘mini’ version. The ‘DIABLO’ hullform looked like a good platform; I would add a low sitting headroom ‘pilothouse’ and lower forward cuddy. I wrote to Phil, outlined my intentions, and asked his opinion. He answered promptly; a handwritten letter recommending AGAINST IT - for STABILITY reasons. He suggested the ‘DIABLO GRANDE’ as a better platform. I followed his advice and dropped the project.

When a designer puts a plan into ‘public domain’ or sells copies {either directly or through a ‘broker’ - see Clark Craft, Hankinson, etc} the ultimate fate of that design is out of his hands; the ‘chain of evidence’ is broken. It can be as simple as a bad ’copy’ making a line or comment hard to read. Or an error where an index point has been left out of a drawing. [Yes - I found a point missing on a design that had been sold many times. The broker sent my comment/question to the designer who then sent me a RE-DRAWN print] The far end of the spectrum is where a builder decides to change a structural component; " . . .if I take out these 6in frames and just put the seat across here, I’ll have more room for my fishing gear, etc . . .". When I modify a plan it is well researched first, and usually it is to add MORE flotation, heavier scantlings, or to adopt a 1930's design to use modern materials. Many people go in the opposite direction with little thought.

The home builder isn’t the only one either. How many of us have seen that 10ft ‘tin boat’ good for two, loaded with a family of 5, with 3 inches of freeboard, and in the middle of a busy river or seaway? You KNOW that boat came with ‘load certification plate’. IF the ultimate disaster happens - the British "Death by Misadventure" or the smart-ass American "cleaning the gene pool" - is the designer responsible? If he signed his drawings as a PE, he could be !!


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